JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A primetime letdown.
Jacksonville’s defense continued its stretch of rough starts and couldn’t get Gardner Minshew and the offense to clean things up this time in a flat performance in front of a national television audience.
Reality showed back up at TIAA Bank Field.
The result, a 31-13 loss to previously winless Miami on Thursday night, cracked the lid open on why the expectations were so low on the Jaguars this season.
Jacksonville’s 1-1 start, and impressive showing in those games, had provided momentum after an offseason roster overhaul that this rebuilding process might be further along than expected.
The rookies had played well. Minshew looked like a franchise quarterback. As leaky as the defense played early in those games, it got better as the game went on. They were even a three-point favorite against Miami (1-2) on Thursday night.
Unlike in games against the Colts and Titans, where bad starts by the defense were overshadowed by how well the offense performed, there was no such saving grace in this one. There was no second half burst by the offense. No Minshew Magic. Not even room left in the debate on beards and mustaches.
That even turned into a mismatch.
The defense was picked apart by Fitzpatrick, bushy beard and all, who completed his first 10 passes of the game, threw a pair of touchdowns and rushed for another. He was 18 of 20 passing for 160 yards and rushed for 39 more on six carries.
When Jacksonville had played from behind in Weeks 1 and 2, Minshew and the offense helped conceal some of those deficiencies with stellar performances after halftime. Jacksonville outscored Indianapolis and Tennessee by a combined 33-12 after the break.
That surge never came.
Minshew lost his first fumble of the season late in the third quarter on a third-down scramble. Kyle Van Noy recovered it at the Jacksonville 10 and Fitzpatrick punched it in on a quarterback draw three plays later for a 28-7 lead. Undrafted free agent running back James Robinson had another career game for the Jaguars, scoring his second touchdown of the night on a 1-yard run with 9:03 to play for the only spark after the break for Jacksonville. He was intercepted by Xavien Howard with just over two minutes to play for the final dagger of a forgettable night.
Minshew (30 of 42, 275 yards, interception) didn’t get much help.
Receiver Chris Conley dropped two passes on third down and was wide open inside the 10-yard-line on a ball that sailed just past him on the final play of the third quarter. Starting left tackle Cam Robinson was ejected after shoving an official’s arm away after a Minshew fumble. Despite his two rushing touchdowns, Robinson was limited to 46 yards on the ground.
The defense didn’t do much of anything in the first half, setting the tone for what was bound to be a long night.
Miami needed 18 totals plays to score its first two touchdowns and kept it up throughout the game. The Dolphins didn’t punt in the opening half and pushed their lead to 21-7 on Fitzpatrick’s second scoring pass of the half, a 15-yard curl to tight end Mike Gesicki that rookie C.J. Henderson broke late on. Fitzpatrick didn’t have his first incomplete pass until 47 seconds before halftime.
The Jaguars defense has allowed 62 first-half points in the first three weeks.
• Jacksonville lost two players to injury, linebacker Leon Jacobs with a knee injury on the opening drive of the game, and safety Andrew Wingard (core muscle) in the second quarter.
• Kicker Brandon Wright, who replaced Josh Lambo, suffered a groin injury following a missed PAT.
• Raines graduate Solomon Kindley got the start at right guard for the Dolphins. Receiver Isaiah Ford, a Trinity Christian graduate, had two catches for 14 yards for Miami.
• Robinson now has three rushing touchdowns this season, equaling the number of rushing scores that the Jaguars had last season.